He was imprisoned for five years until President Carlos Menem pardoned military and left-wing guerrilla leaders in what the president described as a gesture of national healing. The pardon was also seen as a maneuver to prevent another coup.
The decision bitterly divided the country, and efforts continued with minimal success to roll back 1980s-era immunity laws until the election in 2003 of President Néstor Kirchner, a leftist who had been briefly jailed during the junta years for his student activism.
Kirchner and his widow and successor, Cristina, accelerated efforts to prosecute aging junta leaders and functionaries. Old legal immunities were gradually wiped away, and Gen. Videla was ordered to stand trial for human rights abuses in 2010.
He was sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of more than 30 prisoners after the 1976 coup. While serving the life sentence at the civilian prison at the barracks at Campo de Mayo, Gen. Videla also was tried on charges of stealing babies. In July 2012, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his role in the abductions of dozens of infants. (Another former junta president, Reynaldo Bignone, received 15 years for the baby seizures in addition to his earlier life term for crimes against humanity.)
In his closing remarks at trial, Gen. Videla said, “All those who gave birth, who I respect as mothers, were active militants in the machinery of terror. They used their children as human shields.”
Francisco Madariaga Quintela, who had been taken as a child and was reunited with his birth father only in 2010, told reporters at the time of the sentencing: “It was the worst, the most perverse of the dictatorship, I think, what they did with us. It was a torture prolonged through time, for the grandmothers searching, for family members, everyone.”
Jorge Rafael Videla was born Aug. 2, 1925, in Mercedes, a city in Buenos Aires province. His father was an army colonel.
At 16, he entered the National Military College, considered Argentina’s West Point. He received a commission in 1944 and ascended the military hierarchy. In the early 1970s, he became commandant of the military college, where his wiry physique and reputation for cunning earned him the nickname “Pink Panther.”
In 1948, he married the former Alicia Raquel Hartridge, by whom he had seven children. A son died in 1971.
In 1975, Gen. Videla was named general commander of the army by Perón. She had served briefly as vice president under her husband, strongman Juan Domingo Perón, before being widowed into the presidency.